In praise of: black winter truffles

Categories: Reflections and opinions

An ingredient worthy of its regal reputation from Tartufaia, via Emilia-Romagna

Words: Mark Riddaway
Image: Orlando Gili

Most of the foods that come plastered like baroque gilding over the menus of the super-rich—caviar, wagyu beef—I can take or leave; victories of name over taste. Truffles, though. Truffles are worth every bit of their reputation. These winter truffles—brought to Borough Market’s Tartufaia from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy—smell like God’s body odour at the end of the sixth day of creation, pungent and heady, while their knobbly oddness offers a heartening two fingers to any reductive conflation of the tasty and the photogenic.

My first taste of the peerless Tuber melanosporum came in Tuscany, in deep midwinter. My girlfriend and I hadn’t been together long, and the path to true love was a little bramble-strewn. Even before we set off for dinner in a tiny, homely restaurant, she was complaining of not feeling well. Then, when I noticed she wasn’t drinking, I knew something was seriously wrong. Straight after we’d ordered, it became obvious from her stomach cramps and clammy pallor that I should immediately cancel and take her straight home.

Feigning elaborate concern
But my starter was going to be fresh pasta with butter and black winter truffle, and I really wanted to try it. Forced to choose between decency and truffles, I went with the latter, feigning elaborate concern while desperately delaying our increasingly urgent exit. The story has a happy ending: the truffles were all I’d hoped they’d be—angels dancing on a few milligrams of fungus—and because my girlfriend was so ill by the time the primi came out, I got to eat hers too. Oh, and we’re still together, happier than ever, and I know now that she would definitely have made the same decision were the roles reversed. The choice between moral fortitude and transcendent truffle pasta is no choice at all.